Time Warps in Pnin

Here are my chapter-by-chapter notes on the moments where Pnin travels through time (and his heart jams; often with squirrel around). They were written for my consumption and elaboration, but you can get the gist!


Transcendence of Time

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there is a recurring pattern of “time travel” in the book: In each chapter, Pnin has some kind of palpitation of the heart, in which he suddenly finds himself back in his childhood or younger adulthood. These moments correlate pretty nicely with the appearance of the infamous squirrel.

Chapter 1: 20-25 (discreteness. Pattern of Wallpaper. Peach stone. Ends on 25 with the “doom should not jam” passage)

Chapter 2: No collapse quite like in Chapter 1 (unless we count the “I haf nofing!” on p.61) but much of the chapter is devoted to Pnin’s love of Liza, including a job in the rue vert-vert (44) and another mention of his “jammed heart” (47) and of “verbal heart props” (53). And that moment of near-transcendence happens again with the squirrel on p. 58 (gives the squirrel water)—let’s look at that.

Chapter 3: Squirrel this is time is on p. 73, but the “jamming” continues with a mention of the doorjamb on p. 65, which marks the room as belonging to Isabelle Clements (Pnin doesn’t see it; in re home, see G’s blog post), followed shortly by the narrator’s “It warmed my heart” and the whole Pushkin’s death episode… (68) Another intimation of “something else” some puzzle he (and we) are not quite getting on the bottom of 79. Pnin jumps back in time when watching Soviet movie: TEARS, again (81-82).

Chapter 4. This time the squirrel comes on p. 88. Most of the chapter is about Victor. We get the “water father” theme from Chatper 3 developed. Skiagraphy (see squirrel handout) and Victor’s art  related to “squirrel theme” in some way. No heart, as far as I noticed on this read-through, but notice the chapter ending on p 110, which picks up the “Windshield painting” and is one of those authorial “signature” moments for Nabokov. We’ll talk more about this chapter on Thursday.

Chapter 5. The Pines. The squirrel, the heart and the melting all occur on page 131, when Pnin is forced to remember Mira Belochkin (!) , his first great love, who died in Buchenwald (another forest–“beech forest” this time).

Chapter 6. This is the chapter with the Bowl, and where Pnin holds his little lecture on squirrel etymology (158). The tears this time come with the washing of the bowl (172-173). We’ll talk more about this on Thursday.

Chapter 7. The stuffed squirrel now shows up in the narrator’s recollection of Pnin’s childhood bedroom (177); the heart makes its appearance at least once,  in the “most cordial terms” that the narrator offers Pnin (186)


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